Paying tribute to Wayne Rooney in his absolute prime

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Was prime Wazza the best ever?

Ever since he rattled that stunning long-range strike off the underside of the bar against Arsenal in 2003, past the usually so flawless David Seaman - England's then-first choice goalkeeper - in the Gunners net, everyone knew this kid was special.

Off he ran, this excitable young teen who wouldn't have known what he was doing standing beside the likes of Sol Campbell, Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira on the hallow Goodison Park turf, straight over to the thousands of Toffees fans who, at that precise moment, would have realised that this kid was going to be someone.

Since his debut in the Premier League some 17 years ago now, Wayne Rooney continually dazzled the common supporter, demonstrating a maturity on the pitch that went well beyond his actual age. He had it all, even as a kid, and I mean, a literal kid.

This man-like boy, aged just 16 was physically ready for the English top flight so early on in his career. His attitude matched his stature, too. Wayne Rooney may have been the new kid on the block but he wasn't here to be pushed around and bullied, he was in fact going to be the bully. Incredibly strong on the ball and unbelievably clever with it at his feet, this young Evertonian was destined for greatness from day one, and that's exactly what he achieved.

rooney
Sixteen. Six. Teen.

Rooney struck fear into even the most composed, experienced defenders as he rose to prominence in the Premier League; he had opponents on strings, it was so clear to see and a pleasure to watch each week.

Goalkeepers didn't fancy it when Wazza laced up those early edition Total 90's, the boots we would all become so accustomed to see him wearing throughout the next decade, as he continually lashed the ball in the corner of the net from every possible angle.

No more than 15 days after he stunned the nation with his beautiful strike against Arsenal, Rooney was it again. This time it was Leeds United who felt the force of this passionate teen, constantly trying to prove that he had what it took to succeed at the very top. The turn of pace still seizes to amaze me, it were as if his Premier League opponents were not there and he was let loose in the playground with an under-pumped size four football at break-time, it was majestic.

He brushes his marker aside and drives towards the penalty area before cutely placing the ball into the far corner of the Whites' goal. The ball seems to trickle over the line at minimal pace, but there is nothing anybody can do about it because there is just enough pace on it and the perfect amount of placement, of course there is. It was after this moment that people realised his debut finish a fortnight before was not a fluke, but the start of something romantic.

Rooney's accolades for Everton won him the coveted BBC Sports Personality of the Year award in 2002 and it was thoroughly deserved. Just weeks after, he received his first red card, sent off for a rash challenge on Birmingham City's Steve Vickers and though this showed a potential weakness in his game, what it also showed was that he had heart, passion and fire in that ghost-like pale belly of his.

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Hard as nails, too.

It was only a matter of time before a huge club came in for Rooney, his performances for Everton continued to grab headlines and before long, in the summer of '04, he moved to Manchester United for £25m. At the time that was big money but could you imagine what he'd be worth in today's market? It's a frightening thought. Goals continued to flow effortlessly and Rooney became England's talisman up front. The then-17-year-old travelled to Euro 2004 and impressed, but injury halted his progress in Portugal after that fateful boot incident.

120 caps later and Rooney becomes England's all-time record outfield appearance-maker. As the season's went by, he seemingly just started to find football easier, banging them in for United almost each week, in such a unique, destructive manner that nobody had ever seen before, it was all so raw.

It was as if this young man felt a different kind of anger each time he stepped across the white lines, but channelled it in the only way he knew how: scoring goals, and lots of them. There were times where his disciplinary issues drew negative press, but he was a hothead, it's just how he went about his game and had he not have been wired that way then would he have still been such a truly brilliant football player?

The overhead kick against City epitomised Rooney in his prime. It had everything, showed the copious amount of confidence he had running through his bloodstream every single time he took to the field and could have only been completed by very few players on this earth, if anyone else at all.

If anyone was at risk of forgetting just how phenomenal Wayne Rooney was during his prime in the top flight, his 300 yard strike (something i'd struggle to complete even with a golf club) for current side DC United earlier this week will offer a swift reminder of what he is all about.

Rooney's career in England may now long be over, even at Everton during his return spell it wasn't the real Rooney, was it? But take nothing away from the pure brilliance and joy this man gave us for over a decade.

He's a footballing hero, Wayne. The best ever? It's up for huge debate, but there is certainly a strong case. For now, just enjoy this YouTube highlight reel of his best goals, alright:

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